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How to Start Painting at Any Age

3 tips from a pro on easy ways to pick up a brush and begin

Part of the Artful Aging Special Report

Megan Jackson is the kind of person people describe as an old soul. “It’s hard for me to really connect in my own age group, and that’s always been the case,” says the painter who created the untitled work that tops Next Avenue’s Artful Aging Special Report. “I’ve always had older friends.”

Before Jackson created this work of painting and collage, she wasn’t familiar with the terms “artful aging” or “creative aging” — which refer to the practice of engaging older adults in participatory, professionally run arts programs with a focus on social engagement and skills mastery. But she knew many people who were living it. Like her friend Lori, who became what Jackson calls a “botanist photographer” in her 60s.

Lori shoots pictures of her natural surroundings in southeastern Minnesota and posts them to Facebook. “It’s just really beautiful to see that connection past generations,” Jackson says.

Jackson wasn’t always a painter. Her mom was an art teacher, so she understood art techniques, but the pressure to be technically good was a deterrent.

You hear people all the time say, ‘Oh, I don't have any artistic talent,’ which is not true. You just have to get out there and try it.

— Megan Jackson

“When I was little, I always felt like I had to do it right, and then I couldn’t. Then I didn’t do it,” Jackson says. “It was fourth grade. We had the art specialist come around and it wasn’t my mom at this point. It was her boss who was a really great artist and I thought she was awesome. One lesson I just remember I froze the entire class time, hid my paper, didn’t do anything, because I’m like, ‘Oh, it’s got to be perfect. It’s got to be perfect and it’s got to be different.’ It was the worst hour and a half of my fourth grade life.”

After her first child was born, Jackson returned to art as a stress reliever — a way to get out of her body. But first, she had to let go of perfectionism. “I needed to get messy and literally scribble,” she says.

She encourages others to do the same.

Anyone — anyone — can be an artist. You hear people all the time say, ‘Oh, I don’t have any artistic talent,’ which is not true,” Jackson says. “You just have to do it whether you think you have talent or not, you have to get out there and try it.”

Jackson offers three tips on how you, too, can let go of the pressure and get started doing art:

1. Try a Wine and Art Event

“Staring at a blank canvas can be very intimidating and you don’t know where to start,” Jackson says. Paint-and-sip events popping up around the country, such as those offered by Paint Night, Wine and Canvas and Cheers Pablo let you ease into it.

“It’s a relaxed environment. You’re with your friends. You’re having wine. And someone is telling you exactly what to do. It’s a good way to just put paint to canvas and experience what that feels like,” Jackson says. “It’s fun to see people post on Facebook after they’ve done this. The difference in technique varies from individual to individual and how they see things when it’s the exact same painting and the same teacher telling you what to do. Everyone has their own style and technique right off the bat. It’s really fascinating to me.”

2. Color and Doodle

This whole coloring book craze is huge right now, because it’s already there for you and you can put your creativity in with your color and design. Painting can definitely be the same thing,” Jackson says. People think that I must be an excellent drawer. I’m not. When I take my pencil, I’m scribbling. I’m not doing this refined technique of drawing.”

She suggests trying this exercise, which encourages you to take a bit more of a risk than filling in a prefab coloring page: Take a black Sharpie and draw an abstract image using one continuous line — don’t lift up the pen. Then color in the shapes. “You’re basically making your own coloring page,” says Jackson. “There’s freedom because you’re making your own shape, but then there’s that structure of, ‘Oh, now I just get to color in.’”

3. Make Art a Daily Practice

“I did have to discipline myself and I did have to paint every day, even if it was literally for five or ten minutes during nap time,” Jackson says. “You just have to keep practicing and revising and learning from past pieces and works. I took that practice into play with my painting which really allowed me to open up and to paint bad things.”

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